21 June 2006

Longest night

solstice lanterns

This year the schools celebrated the winter solstice a week early, due to the timing of the school holidays.

This was the first such festival we have celebrated at the boys' new school, and it's interesting to see how differently all the schools interpret the winter festival, the solstice, the celebration of the return of the light, and the coming together of a community.

As one of the Class 6 children, Son #1 was one of the torch bearers, but it wasn't until on the night that I realised he was the leader, and the one who brought the light to the whole school.

Wrapped in coats and scarves, we assembled in the dark playground under a black bowl of a sky liberally strewn with stars. A lone drum sounded and the six torch bearers filed solemnly in to the central space, with Son#1 in the lead. Tears filled my eyes as I saw he was the only one whose torch was lit. My boy, and the new kid to boot. To the sound of the drumming, he led the other children in a solemn spiral, moving gradually and rhythmically inward until they were shoulder to shoulder in a loose circle. Again, to the beat of the drumming, Son #1 gently dipped his huge torch to light that of the child next to him, who lit the one next to her and so on until all six torches were blazing in the darkness.

They then walked the spiral in reverse and each child took their torch to where the teachers and other children were gathered, and lit the teachers' lanterns. From there, each child's lantern that they had made during the week was lit, while one of the Class 3 children led the school in a song. The parents were invited to light any lanterns they had brought [I took ours from last year], and hushed and solemn, the entire school community then walked through the night to where the bonfire was ready.

solstice lantern

More songs, and then the moment everyone had been waiting for. The torch bearers lit the bonfire from the bottom, planted their torches around the circle and stepped back.

solstice fire1

Flushed faces shone in the glow of the lanterns, voices joined together in song, and gradually the fire took off. First a thick column of smoke spiralled upward, then came the leaping licking flames and finally, thousands of sparks spun through the nightsky.

Look at all the fire fairies! shouted a small child in wonder. Indeed.

Soup flasks were shared around and smiles were exchanged as the children leapt about, hyped by the leaping fire and the deliciousness of staying-up-late, while babies slept in slings and mothers' arms.

The next night we were invited to attend the solstice festival of the school Son #1 will be attending next year. It was a very different, quiet and dignified affair. Very beautiful, full of reverence and silence, and a steadily growing light as each child lit a candle, then lit candles held by the audience until the hall was positively glowing. At this school it is also the tradition that the Class 6 children bring the light to the school, as they are the transitioning class, the ones moving away from the primary rooms and into the secondary section of the school, joined by the newcomers such as Son #1 from other Steiner primary schools who swell their ranks to form a double Class 7.

On Saturday we are going to round off our wintry week by attending the Collingwood Children's Farm winter solstice festival. We've been once before and it is a joyous, primal, pagan-like celebration filled with music and fire twirling and the biggest lantern parade and bonfire you've ever seen.

After that I think we should be more than ready to welcome the return of the light to our part of the world.

Postscript: A commenter asked me some time ago to share my thoughts on Steiner schooling and how it is perceived in Australia. I haven't forgotten, and as it's one of my passions I would like to comment. However I'm not sure I'm qualified to make such pronouncements, particularly as I would be commenting from within the Steiner community here, but I have been turning it over in my head and will see if I can put something together soon.


Mama Lamb said...

Here we are, around the world from you, getting ready to celebrate the longest day of the year. I knew from reading your celebrations that your children must attend a Waldorf (Steiner) school.. as do mine here in the USA. But mine will be frolicking in the long day tomorrow, memories of our "Spiral of light" way at the back of our minds. It is such a warm and lovely ceremony, and gives us such courage to keep going until that longest day!

If you are curious about our school, here is the link:

Anyway, I enjoyed hearing about your festival of light.

sooz said...

Ah Suse, you make me long for more of this in my world. I'd really like to hear your thoughts about Steiner, ba humbug to qualifications to speak I say. I have such mixed thoughts about it, I really enjoy the discussions.

Thanks too for the suggestion about interlock on my Steiner doll tute - I'll definietly add it in.

dani said...

all morning i've been thinking about the solstice and doing something - it's pouring up here today and i just hope it dries up. i haven't done anything for years and it really is such a special day. thank you for inspiring me - i may just do something yet.

BabelBabe said...

I love the idea of celebrating the solstice. What lovely images your post evokes.

Lazy cow said...

Beautiful description Suse. Your children will have such vivid memories of their childhood.

Please, please post about the Collingwood Childrens' Farm solstice celebrations on Saturday. I was planning to take the kids but we will be away for the weekend. They are so disappointed, and so am I. I'll just have to live vicariously through you.
(Thanks for the felt info too - Soosz also replied).

lisette said...

wow! simply wow!

littlejennywren said...

We are having our Winter Festival on 1st July. Although we no longer have a Steiner school here a small group of interested families are homeschooling their children and also meeting for craft sessions, discussion groups and family times such as a Winter Festival. My daughter is really looking forward to it especially the lantern walk.

Elizabeth said...

Happy Winter Solstice, you celebrations look and sound gorgeous. We are celebrating Summer over here in London.

Elizabeth said...

Those celebrations sound wonderful. I laugh to think of anything like that happening here specifically because of the fire aspect. Children are barely allowed to move on the playground these days, or make a snowman ( this involves the rolling of a snowball - such a lethal weapon) The lighting of anything is definitley out. Makes me sad, though.

Joke said...

I find amazing we can have pals across two continents and three oceans.

Over here, we're looking at the longest day, which doesn't look all that different from the shortest when you sit relatively close to the equator.

And definitely nobody is lighting anything without three reams of permits and a platoon of attorneys.



Em said...

I would be very interested in reading your thoughts on Steiner education. I am considering the new Steiner school in Adelaide as a possibility for my daughter, but have no background in Steiner education and little idea of what it would entail (I'm going along to an information night in August...)